Chicago Cubs Prospect Primer 2012: Corner Outfielders

The Cubs have some serious depth in the farm system. While some teams have twenty to thirty players who could realistically make it to the Major Leagues one day, the Cubs have twice that number. The system is still lacking in star power (although the 2011 Draft helped immensely), but it is bursting at the seams with Major League potential. All of that depth, while exciting, can make things difficult for fans trying to keep track of who is who and where he plays and when he might arrive in the majors and whether or not he’ll even have a job when he does.

Now, before the start of the 2012 Minor League season, is the perfect time to scan the farm system at each position and highlight some of the more promising talent, what we can expect from them, and when they might show up in Chicago. I am not trying to write a definitive guide here, but more of a introductory cast list for the 2012 Minor League season. By the time baseball gets underway, we will have gone through every position on the diamond.

To start with, let’s take a look at the Cubs’ corner outfield prospects.

Take everything I said about the Cubs’ enormous amount of depth, and forget about it. It does not apply to the corner outfield slots. The Cubs are badly starved for power hitting prospects in left and right field. If the front office is able to sign Jorge Soler, he would instantly become the best true slugging outfielder prospect in the system. This is one department in which the Cubs definitely need some help.

Top Five

1 – Brett Jackson. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2012.
Most commonly thought of as a center fielder, Jackson should ultimately (down the road) be pushed into right. His blend of defense, 20+ HR power, 20+ SB speed, and a patient approach at the plate should make him a fixture in the Wrigley outfield for years. He may never hit for a higher average than .270, but his OPS will be more than sufficient to keep him in the starting lineup. Jackson will begin 2012 in Iowa, but should be at Wrigley by mid-Summer.

2 – Reggie Golden. Age: 20. Major League ETA: 2016
Golden has the raw potential to be the best outfielder in the system, but, so far, he has been unable to harness his five-tool potential. At Boise in 2011, his 68 strikeouts in 265 plate appearances yielded a strikeout rate of roughly 26%. That is a little higher than I am comfortable seeing in a Short-Season A player. His final line of .242/.332/.420 was also not impressive. There is no reason to to give up on Golden, but there is no reason to be excited about him any time soon, either. He should start 2012 in Peoria.

3- Rebel Ridling. Age: 25. Major League ETA: 2013
Ridling is a big man with power to spare. Unfortunately, he’s also primarily a first baseman who has consistently been a little old for his league. Despite his age, I cannot argue with his numbers. In his first season in Double A, he posted an OPS of .887 in the pitching heavy Southern League. In 485 trips to the plate he struck out just 89 times while earning 43 walks, both good numbers. He did spend some time in left field for the Smokies, and I think he will spend a lot more time in left with Iowa this season. As the Cubs trend increasingly towards a lefty heavy lineup, right handed mashers like Ridling are going to be valuable. He has a chance to be a part of the Cubs bench for a long time.

4 – Michael Burgess. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2014
Burgess has tremendous power, but he has trouble making consistent contact. We did see some welcome improvements in 2011. He cut back on his strikeouts a bit and earned a career high 60 walks. While he did hit 20 HR for Daytona, his season line was a discouraging .225/.323/.427. Despite spending parts of four seasons in High-A, he should reach Double-A in 2012 at the age of 23, which is reasonable. I think he will begin the season with the Tennessee Smokies.

5 – Nelson Perez. Age: 24. Major League ETA: 2014
Splitting time between High-A and Double-A, Perez hit .272/.330/.453 despite striking out 121 times in 370 plate appearances. He needs to significantly cut back on the strikeouts if he is going to move much higher in the farm system, but at age 24 he still has the opportunity to do that. He should return to Tennessee to start 2012. If he can improve his approach at the plate, he could make it to Iowa by the end of the season. [Brett: According to Arizona Phil over at TCR, Perez hasn't been visibly present at Minor League camp this year. No one's gotten word that he's been released or anything, but it's odd.]

Others To Watch

If Josh Vitters and Junior Lake are moved to the outfield full time, they would rank second and third on this list. Abner Abreu should not be forgotten about, but so far we have little reason to believe that he will transform himself from an exciting possibility into a noteworthy prospect.

The corner outfield slots are by far the most barren part of the Cubs farm system. Next time we’ll review an area where the Cubs are loaded – center field.

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation. He can be found on Twitter as ltblaize.

71 responses to “Chicago Cubs Prospect Primer 2012: Corner Outfielders”

  1. THEOlogical

    Thanks Luke! I think these will become some great articles to look forward to over the next couple of weeks. As a pitcher, I can’t wait to see the pitching prospects piece.

  2. CubFan Paul

    what is Junior Lake’s power potential? with Castro blocking SS, I’d be playing LF/RF 1-2 times a week if i’m Lake (and the remaining days starting at 3B)

    Lake could make it to the majors before all those guys as an OF (BJax is already “in” ..easily the Best OF in spring training)

  3. Rynorooter

    Not exactly sure why there isn’t any reason to be excited about Golden. Here are a few:

    1. .177 ISO as a 19 year old in his first year;
    2. 10.6% BB rate;
    3. By all accounts, tremendously improved defense in RF to where he is squarely above average there;
    4. Stole 5 bases in 7 attempts (over that magical 66.6% success rate mark)
    5. He reportedly became much more coachable as the season progressed

    Honestly, the only reason NOT to be at least a little excited about him is his K rate, which you mentioned. The power has already started to show. The defense is good. The walks are there. It’s just a matter of if he’ll make enough contact. It’s a very big if, but I think the fact that the rest of his game has made some huge strides should be enough to get people’s serious interest.

    1. DocWimsey

      “Honestly, the only reason NOT to be at least a little excited about him is his K rate, which you mentioned. ”

      Moreover, although this K rate is a little high, you note that Gordon draws walks and hits for power. Players with high OBPs and high slugging almost always have high Ks, too: drawing walks and hitting for power both require laying off of pitches that you cannot drive, and that includes some strikes. (That is what Theo means by “Selectively aggressive,” unless he’s changed his tune from his Sox days.)

    2. terencem

      Golden was drafted because he is amazingly athletic and could have enormous potential if he learns how to play baseball. The rest of that list, after Golden, is mostly busted prospects (Burgess) and org filler (Ridling) so I’m far more excited about Golden than anyone else.

  4. Edwin

    No offense Luke, but how are there 40-60 Cubs prospects “who could realistically make it to the Major Leagues one day”? How are there even 20-30? To me, “realistically” means a better chance than not a prospect turns into an MLB player.

    Looking at any team’s “top ten prospect list”, a team is lucky if half of those players make it to Major league baseball, let alone become regulars. Most of the Cubs prospects won’t even make it on to a future “top ten” list. They’ll stay at A+ or AA, and never go further. If a guy like Vitters is 2nd for your corner outfielders, that says a lot about the list.

    That being said, thanks for doing the research and putting this all together. I’d love to learn more about the Cubs farm system, since it’ll probably be more fun watching prospects than watching the big league team.

    1. Kyle

      In order for something to be “realistically possible” for you, it has to be 50.1% likely?

      That’s a very odd use of the word.

    2. Brett

      I see descriptors going something like this:

      Impossible – Virtually Impossible – Highly Unlikely – Plausible, but Unlikely – Realistically Possible – Possible but not Likely – 50/50 – Just Probable – Likely – Highly Likely – Virtually Certain – Guaranteed

      1. Wilbur

        For what it’s worth isn’t using a 12 point measurement scale for such a subjective topic implying a level of precision to the assessment process greater than actually exists? Nothing wrong with the 12 point scale, but pragmatically it would be hard to for me to differentiate what made a prospect score in one descriptor versus either grouping immediately above or below, particularly on the bottom half of the scale.

        Not a big issue and I appreciate we all do this because we love baseball and have an innate desire to project what will and will not occur in the future …

        1. Brett

          Two thoughts:

          (1) The prospecting game is almost entirely built on subjective assessment phrased like a precise mark (what’s a “Grade A” prospect, and what’s a “Grade A-” prospect?), so, whatever flaws exist, they are inherent in the very nature of dealing with prospects.

          (2) I was just talking about my impression of the English language, not prospects. :)

          1. Wilbur

            Understood and makes sense …

          2. ThereWillBeCubs

            (1) I see it as: Plausible, but unlikely = Possible but not Likely

            (2) I see “Realistically possible” as closer to the middle.

            I think if you scrap either of (1) and then swap places with (2), I’m on-board. Enjoyed the tangent.

  5. Noah

    Just a couple comments. And just so you know, I’m not trying to be difficult, I just have some disagreements (‘cuz the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you may not be right for some, etc. etc.):

    1) No Jae-Hoon Ha or Dave Sappelt? Ha has walk rate issues, but he’s a better prospect than any of your bottom three prospects who put okish numbers in AA at age 20. And while Sappelt is a fourth outfielder the odds of any of your bottom 3 three being more than that are somewhere between slim and none. Or are you considering Ha and Sappelt center fielders? If that’s the case, Brett Jackson is a far superior defensive center fielder than either of Ha or Sappelt. Which leads me to…

    2) How is Brett Jackson not considered a center fielder as a prospect? It’s not like he’s a fringe guy defensively there. Every scouting guru I’ve seen over the past year rates him as solidly average to above average there. Yes, they’ve said if he loses a couple steps he may have to move to a corner, but that’s true for a massive percentage of the center fielders in baseball. Matt Kemp is a fringe defensive center fielder right now. If he loses another step, he’s done there. Nearly everyone ends up having to move to a corner eventually. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a center field prospect now. Is it because, if Szczur pans out, Szczur has the raw speed to be an elite defensive center fielder? First, that’s a couple years away, and second that doesn’t make Brett Jackson not a center field prospect. Let me put it this way: Mike Trout is the best center field prospect in baseball. However, unless the Angels trade Peter Bourjos, he’s going to be playing a corner for the Angels. That doesn’t mean that Mike Trout isn’t a center field prospect, though. Just because Brett Jackson MIGHT be pushed to a corner by Matt Szczur in 2014 or 2015 doesn’t mean Brett Jackson isn’t a center field prospect right now.

    1. AB

      Yea I’d be interested to know about Jackson. I was hoping Theo would realize his highest value would come from playing CF, and he will play there everyday in Iowa.

      I also am somewhat critical of the way ‘potential’, ‘depth’, ‘future major leagures’ are used by many people. I’ve probably brought this up before, but Its 2012 and the depth Tim Wilken’s drafts were supposed to provide haven’t materialized. I think it has more to do with a combination of the the Cubs previous drafting philosophy and the value the new regime saw in Wilken/Hendry’s hitters (LeMahieu, Flaherty, Colvin) than with any kind of budgetery restrictions. I mean it looks like Darwin Barney is the biggest impact player of his first three drafts so far, and thats a little bit disappointing.

      I do enjoy these position by position minor league posts and i hope they keep coming fast and furious.

    2. Sean

      In Luke’s defense, a lot of talking heads have predicted a move from center for Jackson. I think those individuals feel this partly because of Jackons’ power potential and also partly because of the depth the Cubs have in centerfield. They have a lot of very good to great defenders at the position.

      As for Ha, he has played the corner, but he had glowing reviews playing in center last year. I think, and I assume Luke agrees, that Ha is identified as a centerfield prospect.

      1. Brett

        Adding to the Jackson bit – there are *some* pundits (and I’m not lumping Luke in, because I don’t know) who see Jackson as, at best, an average defender in center field. I haven’t seen enough of him to know for myself, but a move down the road to a corner outfield spot is realistic.

        1. Noah

          There were a lot of pundits who were concerned about Jackson’s defense heading into 2011. I’ve not read anyone who thinks he’s going to below average this offseason. I’ve seen an average to above average, but not elite, range this offseason.

          The question is if “a move down the road” is enough to change what position a player is a prospect at. How far down the road are we talking about? How much has to go right for other players for that move to be considered realistic? Let’s be honest: Szczur and Ha each have, at best a 50/50 shot at this point of being more than a 4th OF. Both Law and Goldstein think Szczur going to be a 4th/5th OF type. Baseball America thinks much more highly of him.

          I’ll put it this way: if you won’t list Brett Jackson as a center fielder, you can’t honestly list either Javier Baez or Junior Lake at shortstops. Both Baez and Lake are far more likely to be moved off that position before they reach the Majors than Brett Jackson is to not be a center fielder when he’s hitting free agency.

      2. Noah

        I have never seen one glowing review for Ha’s centerfield defense. If you can point me to some, please do and I’ll be happy to reconsider.

        1. Brett

          Baseball America said in November that he was the best defensive outfielder in the Cubs’ system, after a season in which he played almost exclusively center field: http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/organization-top-10-prospects/2012/2612580.html

          1. Noah

            Thanks for the link. I’ll have to check the Prospect Handbook tonight on what they say on him in any detail. I know Goldstein at least does not believe he’s a center fielder. I do know Ha is supposed to have a fantastic arm.

        2. ty

          Fortunate to see Ha play over a hundred games. Glides in the outfield-never makes a tumbling catch because he gets such a jump on the ball. Fundamentally the soundest cub outfielder along the lines of Bryd. Nice loose arm and uses cut off man–does not try to show off arm. Takes great routes and rarely gets turned around. The surprising thing is the power he generates–does tend to pull ball down line too much. Quiet intense kid that is so well liked by his teammates.

          1. Brett

            Sings a hell of a rendition of “Superstar,” too.

    3. Brett

      Ha is a pretty clear center fielder down the road at this point, unless I’m mistaken.

  6. edgar

    Would bjax be closer to graft sizemore or mark Reynold type of player

    1. Norm

      Both? Neither? depends on how you look at him.
      Von Hayes :)

    2. Dumpgobbler

      I would honestly compare him to eithe Nick Markakis or JD Drew.

    3. Richard Nose

      I’ll shart if we end up with Mark Reynolds.

  7. Sean

    I don’t see any reason Jackson would move off of centerfield, at least for the first half of his hopefully long Major League career. The only reason I would see to move him is if someone like Szczur shows that he can bring more value at the position. It would seem that Jackson could have the power to comfortably move to right field eventually. However, until either he proves himself unworthy or someone else proves himself more worthy than Jackson, I don’t see why it should be planned to move him over. He’s a legit defender in center.

    I think guys that don’t really have a set position, like Willson Conteras and Jeimer Candelario, could be possible corner outfielders. I think Vitters will ultimately be a left fielder and I always that thought if he could tought enough power, Lake’s arm would be wonderful in right field.

    1. Brett

      Interesting thought on Lake in RF … though I’m hopeful that, if the Cubs have their way, the clear future of right field will be entering the system in the next couple months.

  8. Deez

    Good Stuff Luke!
    Thanks!

  9. Sean

    I see where you’re going there and I’m right there hoping with you. Plus, it would be great if Lake did reach his potential as a third baseman.

  10. Curt

    Speaking of Soler is there any news on him and if we do sign him whts his era brett

    1. Brett

      No news. I still can’t go any further than saying he’ll sign before July. Of that, I’m certain.

      Once he signs, I wouldn’t look for him any sooner than 2014 at the earliest – he’s just 20. Sure, he could come sooner, but that’s the exception, not the rule. The “rule” would have us looking for him in 2015 or even 2016.

  11. KC

    Why can’t Lake play 2nd? Vitters I would love to give him a chance. I really like an infield of Rizzo, Lake, Castro, Vitters. and an outfield of Szczur and Jackson eventually someone moving from the infield to the outfield (Lake, Vitters) then Baez moving to 2nd or short.
    We will eventually have to find a spot for Vogelbach as well. I can’t wait for the future.

  12. Jay Anderson Jr

    Estimated 2014-2015 lineup.

    CF Szczur
    LF Jackson
    SS Castro
    1B Rizzo
    RF Soler
    2B Lake
    3B Vitters
    C Castillo

    1. Richard Nose

      Aaaaaaaaand at that point we’ve traded Vogelbach and Baez for Clayton Kershaw. Not that I want to trade either of those guys, but there obviously won’t be room for everyone we all like. Love that lineup…can’t wait.

      1. Deer

        If that’s gonna happen, make sure to fire Theo and Hoyer before they hit any bonuses, since their services won’t be needed with an almost 100% home-grown Hendry team.

  13. Karen P

    Sad to admit I’ve only heard of half these guys. But thank you so much for introducing them to me. Very insightful stuff; I look forward to future posts. :)

    1. hardtop

      the joys of bleacher nation: you come in thinking you are the worlds number one cub fan, and you leave feeling like a total poser, even though you know more about the team than your entire family and all of your neighbors combined.

      1. Brett

        That’s what we’re here for: shaming you.

      2. DocWimsey

        It’s like being a one-in-a-million guy in China…..